As the repertoire churns

by Arnold Kling

November 10, 2017

The other day, I went to the fantastic Aussie web site, I did a search for circle dances choreographed between 2013 and 2017. I screened out all the ones whose names I did not recognize, and I also screened out about 5-10 that I would not miss if they got lost. That still left me with over 50 dances. Taking into account the fact that there probably are some good dances from 2017 that are still to be taught in our area, it looks like about 12 really good circle dances per year.

The good news is that this a lot of really great dances. The bad news is that the attendance at sessions is not keeping up.

Note, also, that I do not remember the names of all of the dances that I like. What's that really lively Hassidic-style dance that starts out sliding to the right and has a part where you spin clockwise into the center and then come out spinning counter-clockwise? There's a lot of "Yi-Yi-Yi" in the vocals.

Some really good dances have already gotten lost. Dudu Barzilay's dances seem to have a particularly hard time sticking, with the exception of Sorefet Rechavot. Shma B'Koli is gone. Bracha (which I forgot a about a month after it was taught, and which I decided to leave off the spreadsheet) is gone, also. They do it in Boston, and some of the younger dancers in Maryland know it.

Sunday night, I went to Noah's session. Including Noah, there were seven us there. About 1/3 of the dances were dances that I did not know. Most of them were dances that I wish I knew.

Last night at Ken's session, there were only about 40 dancers. We used to get 75-80. Some of the shortfall was that a few dancers went to a dance camp. Some of it may have been rainy weather. But some of it is a trend.

The flow of new people at dance sessions is a trickle. Thanks to folks like Mike and Marnina, there are young people who become interested in dancing in middle school and high school. Mike runs classes for adult beginners, but only a few ever "graduate" to the intermediate-advanced stage.

The flow of dancers leaving dancing is also a trickle, but it is a faster trickle. As dancers age, they lose their physical ability. Or they despair of keeping up with the repertoire. Some people have lives that do not allow them to attend every week, and when they do attend they feel lost, so they drop out completely.

As Phil Moss has pointed out, the rapid churning of the repertoire tends to slow the inflow of new dancers and to hasten the outflow of veteran dancers. I am increasingly worried by this.

I would like to see session leaders devote some of their teaching to reviving dances that were hits in the past. I would recommend polling dancers about which dances to review. In the first session of the month, you might put on five or six dances as candidates for review. These might be dances that have been almost totally forgotten. Then let the dancers vote for the ones they most want to see taught again. Later that month, re-teach the two that get the most votes.

Doing reviews would help to slow the pace of new dances and make it easier for veterans to keep up. Using a poll of dancers to select dances would help to ensure that you are not spending time re-teaching dances that were not that popular to begin with.

My $.02

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